A look back

For three years, members of the Public Sector CIO Council have operated at the heart of the e-government explosion in Canada. Their initiatives have delivered government services to thousands upon thousands of Canadians. Constantly refining their ideas of what e-government is about, they’ve laid the foundation for what could amount to a revolution in the conduct of public affairs in this country. MacMullen, co-chair of the PSCIOC and CIO New Brunswick, spoke recently with Robert parkins of CIO Governments’ Review on where the council has been – and where it might be going.

Q. There’s no mystery about the evolutionary nature of the PSCIOC. What do you see coming next?

A. The council started in March of 1998 as a group of people who felt they had a common interest, (but) we didn’t actually evolve – we jumped right in and said this isn’t just about information sharing, this is about making a difference. I still recall that first meeting. We recognized we were all facing the same problems – not being able to attract and retain staff, trying to get our political leaders and our senior managers to understand that we were going through a revolution.

I had been appointed here in the fall of ’95. During ’96 and ’97 I attended several events, including the first Lac Carling Congress. There was an association at the time on informatics and government. It was mostly focused on the old data centre days – the centralized processing units – and people from across the country talked about their shared interests once a year, shared some concerns, made some bilateral connections and then went home. But the year after I came into this job, I attended 8 or 10 different events, all with different people, and I found myself frustrated in terms of wanting to do something – collectively we had to do something – but I didn’t know who to talk to. So that’s when I sent the call out to the corporate CIOs, many of whom I’d met through these other venues, and basically said we should get together at least once, to see if there’s any value in it.

I remember saying to the group: We represent IT in the public sector in Canada. That to me is a pretty powerful group – or could be. So we started by recognizing that there were some specific issues we had to address as a group. Information protection and security was one, obviously. At the time the Year 2000 issue was just starting to boil – that was another. Actually the Y2K exercise acted as a good jelling exercise for the group, because we knew we had to get it right – and we did. It was one of the first models that really was successful in terms of common objectives, shared responsibility and joint accountability,

Q. If you look back on it, Y2K was galvanizing. If it had been 20 years earlier, or 20 years later, you might not have had that focus.

A. Yes, the fact that it came along as an agenda item forced us. We didn’t come together in ’98 to address the Y2K issue, but I think it would have brought us together ultimately. But during that time we never forgot about our original priority items, which were information protection and security, privacy and governance – both within our jurisdictions and generally as we move forward with shared services. Our role in that was to secure electronic service delivery. PKI and all those things were also on our radar screen at the time and continue to be a big part of what we talk about. Because fundamentally you’re as strong as your weakest link, and if we don’t get this right citizens are going to . . . well, for them government is government is government. Citizens don’t care.

The other thing is – why can we even talk like this, compared to 10 years ago? Well, it’s the information and technology that is allowing that to happen. We always have debate, among ourselves and within our own jurisdictions, on whether technology is driving the business or business is driving the technology. My answer is: At any one point in time, it depends. We’re all on the trip together; at one point the technology might be driving and business is navigating, and the next time business is driving and the technology is navigating.

Q. In that context, what’s a good guess on what’s next for the PSCIOC?

A. The Council recently went through a bit of an identity crisis as a result of a couple of things. One was that all but three players had changed since ’98. Harry Hutchings from Newfoundland, Jim Hill from the Yukon and myself are the only remaining “founding members,” if I can put it that way. So the players – though not the roles – have changed.

We’ve also expanded to include the municipal sector, because we recognize that it’s not just a federal-provincial issue, it’s all three levels of government that have to be represented to make this happen. So we had to have kind of a regroup. We did that in October, when we sat down and revisited our reason for being and whether we were meeting the expectations of our members. Because one of the premises that we set ourselves up with is that we would only continue to meet as long as we were bringing value to members. If we weren’t bringing value to members, there was no sense getting together. Everybody agreed we’re bringing value – and we could bring more value.

Q. Why would someone suggest that you might be finished bringing value

to the members?

A. I don’t know that it was a suggestion as much as that there were new faces around the table that weren’t around for the three-year dis-cussion. So it was just revisiting why we set ourselves up in the first place and making sure everybody was on the same page. Because some people came to their first meeting feeling that this was just an information sharing exercise. And those of us who had been around longer said no – this is about making a difference.

Q. It’s a good question: Exactly what do you do when you decide to be more than a simple information sharing body?

A. That’s just what we were talking about in October, moving from just an information sharing body to a common stance body. . . . In the case of privacy, for example, we set up a group that said we all believe that privacy should be an inherent requirement in the design of information systems and not a barrier to overcome. After agreeing on that as a group we decided that we would communicate that with our privacy commissioners in our respective jurisdictions. Because we’re trying to strengthen the dialogue among the privacy commissioners and the information sectors and the information technology sectors. There’s a perceived conflict of objectives there – but we don’t believe it’s real. . . .

So there are some things, from an information sharing perspective, where you learn best practices from each other, and you use that a lot – I refer to it as my psychological support group, and they’ve played that role. But we’ve gone from that to where we stand up and identify a common objective and a common principle and a common statement. The Year 2000 clearly recognized that we had to work together; we were only going to be successful if we were all successful.

Now, in terms of information protection and security, for example, the question is how we ensure that information and the information infrastructure is safe, is secure, is stable, is protected, is set up in a way that we can react if there is a problem. How do we do that? Whose jurisdiction is it? It’s everybody’s. Whose responsibility is it? It’s everybody’s. We really faced quickly the need to have a governance mechanism whereby we can work together collectively and actually make decisions and push the agenda.

Q. So this is the next phase for the council.

A. Exactly. We moved from information protection to common good. Now how do we move from common good to pushing our common agenda? There are models, and we’ve looked at some – the Association of Professional Engineers, for example. You can look at different models that are in place for organizations that function nationally, and provincially, and in smaller jurisdictions. If you want to be a force to be reckoned with, you’ve got to put a governance model in place and make it happen.

Q. Will all that be on the table at Lac Carling VI?

A. Yes and no – it’s a CIO issue, after all, not Lac Carling’s. But: Lac Carling delegates are looking for leadership. They want somebody to make something happen. So our response will be: We will take on the leadership and this is the mechanism. It won’t be on the table for formal discussion – we’re not looking for Lac Carling delegates to confirm or approve or “own” that mechanism.

Q. It seems to be a question of an organization that in some respects is hitting its head on the ceiling: How do you go the next floor – and what’s on that floor?

A. Exactly. Because we all have our jurisdictions. We’re trying hard to keep it out of the traditional federal-provincial-municipal relationship. You can’t, totally, because we do discuss things that have small-p and big-p political implications. And we are public sector, so we have to work within those constructs. It’s a challenge to do that sometimes, and there are some things that we as a council cannot address.

Q. What are some of the other big issues for the council in the short to medium term?

A. Specific issues that we’re going to be faced with include this whole concept of innovative electronic service delivery. The big one will be security – the whole question of who authenticates you in the electronic world. And do you need to be authenticated for every program you get from government, for every government, for all governments? And how does authentication work between government and the private sector?

Q. On the security front, Sept. 11 was clearly a big issue. How has it played out as you try to put together secure systems?

A. Sept. 11 obviously heightened the awareness of people relative to personal security. But it’s also having a ripple down effect too. We haven’t seen it too much here, but Toronto and Ottawa and the bigger places have issues like disaster recovery backup: Notwithstanding the human loss, how do you get back in business quickly? That hasn’t been talked about much. But the next discussion will be – notwithstanding the fact that planes can be flown into buildings, what happens in terms of disaster recovery if it’s on a smaller scale? For governments, that’s an issue. For example, we experienced a bad power outage down here because of that weather bomb in the Gulf of St. Lawrence. We were out for five hours, and that really increased the awareness at the political level of how dependent we were on power to run our technology to deliver services.

Q. On another front entirely, we’ve been talking about the evolution of the PSCIOC. Lac Carling Governments’ Review has been evolving as well – it’s had a name change, for one thing, to become CIO Governments’ Review, and it’s developing in other ways as well. How do you see that playing out?

A. It’s positive. Over the last three or four years, we’ve focused on delivering services electronically – including, unfortunately, within “silos.” This whole concept of moving to integrated electronic service delivery is a first step. Second is to talk about e-government in the broader context, and how information technology can be used to transform the way government works internally, the way government delivers programs and services, the way government uses information technology to manage its programs and services, the way we use information to do better decision making, and fundamentally, at the other end of the spectrum, how this is going to change the relationship of the faceless public servant and the citizen, the citizen and the elected official, and the elected official and the public servant.

Because e-government is more than just doing your motor vehicle licences online. So I see the transformation of the magazine from electronic service delivery strategies to e-government strategies. That’s clearly part of an over-all evolution: The council’s evolving, the Lac Carling event is evolving, the Lac Carling

publication is evolving – we’re all talking about different things now when we talk about e-government. It’s not just about delivering services online.

When you talk about integrated services, and e-government and e-democracy, you’re talking about fundamental cultural change – the information revolution and what it means, culturally, to our organizations, how we work, tearing down silos. . . . Those are going to become fundamental discussions about hierarchies and ministerial authorities and that sort of thing. The magazine will open up the dialogue. We can already deliver services online; that’s the easy part. But if we don’t get integrated services online, all we’re going to do is upset


Q. Let’s look at a couple of other issues. Performance measurement – is there any progress?

A. The question is really how do we know we’re there. My own ultimate performance measurement, from a CIO’s perspective, is this: When we’ve stopped talking about e-government and we’re just talking about government, we’ll know we’ve made it. . . . But that’s not going to work for the citizen in the least. So there’s a whole bunch of different ways we have to look at that, and different factors we have to measure and different ways to report. And it’s anything from all appropriate services online by a given date, to we’ve stopped talking about “e.” The measurement depends on the audience you’re talking to – how you’re going to measure, and how you’re going to report it.

We struggled with this on Y2K: How do you report to the citizen that we’re okay? What we didn’t need was the federal government saying one thing and a provincial government saying something else. And we especially didn’t want to say it differently. So when we talk about e-government, we’re going to get our act together around: First, what does it mean; second, what are the kinds of things we need to do to get there, and third, how we’re going to measure whether we’re making progress.

Q. Human resources is another big issue.

A. HR is another issue around change management. That’s everything from getting deputies to work in a more horizontal way, and a change in the way we work within our structures, to having someone on the front lines of a Service New Brunswick who provides integrated services but has enough knowledge to know when to ask questions and when they can just act. There are a lot of issues around change management – whether people will be able to adapt to change in the organization, from the front line clerk to the senior manager. We need leaders – but we’re getting them. When I look around the table at people like Ardath Paxton Mann, Art Daniels, Mary Ogilvie – they’re from across the country. And then there are the non-service delivery people like Mel Cappe and Peter Harder in Ottawa, and in our case our deputy minister in natural resources, Dave Ferguson – people who clearly see that we are living in a revolution. These people understand it, they have a passion for it; they believe it. They don’t know all the details, but they know it’s happening and we have to embrace the change.

Q. People talk about the need for “human-centric” technology – making e-government more people-oriented. What does that mean?

A. We’ve talked about citizen centred service delivery. That’s service to the citizen where they want it, when they want it, in a way that they understand – getting rid of the organizational structures for citizens, because they don’t necessarily care which level of government or which department is involved. We’re organized into departments and into orders of government for accountability purposes, for management purposes, for funding purposes. But we’re being told by the citizens that “we don’t want you to work that way.”

But they want to know who’s accountable too. So they don’t want the ministers or the deputies to go away. They want us to work differently – but they still want to have one person to yell at. So they want the best of both worlds. That’s fine – that’s what we’re here for…

Human-centric is about looking at it from within – the whole change management issue, and the HR issues around changing the way we work. People are used to organizational structures. They’re used to seeing their name in a box in the middle of a chart and understanding that I report to that person, here’s the boundaries of my mandate, here’s what I do. Traditionally, we’re hierarchical organizations built on Industrial Revolution models, where this person is responsible for that piece and that person is responsible for this piece. We’re process driven. But that’s changing – it’s all about relationships. There’s a saying that sounds terrible but isn’t meant to be: “It isn’t who you know, it’s how you use them.” In other words, it’s how you establish relationships and what you do with them.

We’re a transition generation. Our kids aren’t going to give two hoots about organization structures and stuff like that. That’s not the way they’re going to work. I’ve got a seven-year-old who’s never going to deal with a travel agent, or walk into a bank. Chances are he’ll never deal with government face to face. He may deal with the citizen engagement side, and want to help shape policy, but government in the other sense. . . .no.